Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in late August, the only remaining government is the Taliban. But the Taliban are not partners in defeating terrorism there, the head of the US Special Operations Command said.
“I do not see them as a partner – I just want to be honest,” Army General Richard D. Clarke, chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command, said Friday at the annual Halifax International Security Forum event in Nova Scotia, Canada. “I think we have an interest from the US perspective in that the ISIS threat that is in Afghanistan is disturbed, that it can not rest [so that it could actually affect one of our nations. But I wouldn’t, as we look at the Taliban, I don’t think they’re an entity, today, that should be … a counterterrorism partner.”
That doesn’t mean that the U.S. or its allies are without recourse should threats in Afghanistan arise that could harm the U.S. homeland or that of allies, Clarke said. The U.S. and its allies have options they’ve developed over 20 years of war.
“We built up amazing counterterrorism capabilities over the last 20 years,” he said. “Some of those capabilities can still be used in Afghanistan today.”
Clarke said those capabilities involve working with partner Afghans who still remain in Afghanistan and also working with regional allies as well.
There are also embassies in Afghanistan that have insight into what’s going on, and there are other intelligence assets that the U.S. can be relied on, as well.
“The most important thing for us in Afghanistan is to ensure we understand the intel picture of where [the] “ISIS-K, which exists there today, is in fact, and if it becomes such a threat that it can come back to the United States or can come to one of our allies and partners – we have built capacity,” he said. “We can go where the enemy is. We have proven this time and time again with the counter-terrorism forces that we have all built up. “
The United States has said it retains over-the-horizon capabilities that can be used in Afghanistan, even if it does not have a presence on Earth. Clarke said it will be difficult, but not impossible, for the U.S. military to accomplish the things it can be asked to do without boots on the ground.
“It gets harder. Every time you have a physical presence on earth, it stimulates the enemy’s forces – you see and sense that you are with partner forces,” he said. “It’s getting harder. But … the unique opportunities we’ve built with airborne unmanned aerial vehicles, the presence of Afghan partners, the ability to talk to them and continue working with allies – that’s what we want to continue with. “Even though it’s hard, we’ve done it hard and we can do it hard and we will keep going.”
Clarke also said that the specialist surgery community has realized that this may not always be the answer – that others are capable and must also be part of the solutions. This is different, he said, than the way special operations were used immediately after 9/11.
“At some point after 9/11 – if a group raised their hand and said ‘I am part of al-Qaeda’ or … ‘I am part of ISIS’, we would generally send special operations teams to that place to try to disrupt or defeat, and found that it is not a sustainable approach, “he said, adding that the specialized operations community must now prioritize where it responds.
Now, he said, it’s important to work more closely with other talented communities to see who is best able to respond.
“What we need to do is work with allies, and especially indigenous partners from that region, to actually defeat that threat and try to limit it within their borders so that it does not actually grow,” he said. “So we’ve gone for a more sustainable approach to the counter-VEO approach.”
The answer also does not always have to be a kinetic answer, Clarke said.
“It does not always have to be the warhead to defeat this, but in reality it must be a whole government approach, and it must be … to ensure that allies and these partner nations are able to [meet] the threat. “